Lazarus’s Pajamas and the Return of the Thin White Duke

The video of “Lazarus” isn’t the first recent Bowie video to allude to the Station to Station era. That would be “Love is Lost [Halloween Version]”  from 2013, the one Bowie made himself with help from Coco Schwab and Jimmy King, using images from previous or planned videos. Remember the sad projected face of “Where Are We Now?” It’s back, with a witch’s hat stuck on it. As creepy as that face is (and how foreboding the line “Walking the Dead” seems now), the scariest thing in this video is the presence of a marionette Thin White Duke splattered with blood. The marionette Duke was going to be used in a video for “The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.”

The lyrics of “Love is Lost” seem made for the Halloween  version (“Say goodbye to the thrills of life/Where love was good, no love was bad/Wave goodbye to the life without pain”). The world has become a scary place.

When future Bowies were asked about the Thin White Duke, he consistently declared that this persona was an ogre, very threatening, and one he was glad to be rid of. The Thin White Duke [TWD] came to represent what had been — at that point — the worst time of his life. 

The timeline of Bowie’s cancer isn’t our business, but I’m wondering if the TWD surfaced in the Halloween video because Bowie intuited that something was wrong, or if he knew. October 2013 falls well outside the eighteen months that has been cited as the length of Bowie’s final illness, but I have read that he had had cancer, they thought he had beat it, and then it returned, which may account for the type of cancer initially being pegged as liver cancer and later changed to pancreatic.

At least once it was clarified as pancreatic, the nonsense about his cancer being caused by drink and drugs ended. Is it any wonder that he wanted to keep his illness private? Bowie had, after all, been straight for 15 or so years. If the cancer had metastasized to the liver, the cancerous cells had their origin elsewhere.

The point is that Bowie may have been sick longer than 18 months.

And sometimes, even if there has been no firm diagnosis, you know something is wrong before you know what it is. And that is very, very scary.

Since the TWD years were the ones when Bowie was scared and sick, it is unsurprising that Station to Station is alluded to in “Lazarus.”

Now, the TWD doesn’t appear in “Lazarus,” but Bowie has chosen, for the last we will see of him on film, to wear striped pajamas resembling the ones he (Bowie, not the TWD) wore on the back cover of Station to Station (photographed by Steve Schapiro). 

I have never liked those pajamas, and they look awful on him in the “Lazarus” videodbkaSome say the white lines were inspired by the copious amounts of cocaine Bowie was consuming at the time. I think they look like the convict uniform in the South, with stripes askew. (I’ve wondered too why in the Schapiro photo he is using white chalk to draw black lines.) 

But the pajamas do evoke some of the darkest days of his life.

I don’t, however, think they mean that Bowie was using his last months to revisit the Kabbalah, regardless of stories on sites ranging from The Irish Mirror  to The Jerusalem Post. Even The Guardian’s Jude Rogers talk about Aleister Crowley “with whom Bowie was obsessed in the 1970s.”

I think what he said in the 90s still held true: “Nobody professing a knowledge of the black arts should be taken seriously if they can’t speak Latin or Greek.” This implies that there are black magicians out there. He could have added that those who dabble in the occult can get in way over their heads. This is not something you want to fiddle with when you are already sick and weak. He’d already been through that. Bowie arrived in LA a Crowleyite, but he left with respect for Dion Fortune, a white magician, and particularly her book, Psychic Self-Defense. More on that next time.

The “Lazarus” video is about a man who is sick and under attack, not from a malevolent magician, but from that for which there is no psychic defense. 

Still, he isn’t going to let that lady with the creepy face be the guise in which Death comes for him. He eludes her and backs into the closet from which she had emerged. He will do as he told Cameron Crowe back in 1976: “I’ve now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been and will be.”

Here’s a strangeness for you: In 1976 when Cameron Crowe reviewed the Station to Station tour for Creem,  he subtitled the piece “David Bowie Pulls A Lazarus.”

Finally, did anyone else feel chilled by Bowie’s teeth in “Lazarus” ? Gone are Bowie’s beautiful hands; they are now mottled. His neck has bulging veins, not the swan’s smoothness he had so long. But his teeth? His teeth are perfect.



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